POP MUSIC REVIEW : Modern English Melts Down

Modern English is certainly the cheeriest group ever to be associated with England's artsy, obscurant 4AD Records. The band's 1982 semi-hit "I Melt With You" was a minor classic of gaga new-wave romanticism, and after four years of splitsville, three core members have reunited with a new LP (on a new label) of even more blissfully lovestruck reveries.

There was less to be cheerful about Tuesday at the Palace, where the British group played for a little less than an hour to a modest crowd of KROQ-odiles, going through the motions of trying to sound positively rapturous.

The new "Pillow Lips" album was recorded without a permanent lead guitarist in the group and suffers accordingly, with a thin, techno-pop approach somewhere between OMD and late-period Sparks. The sound was beefed up live with two American guitarists as sidemen, but rarely became buoyant enough to catch up in the stratosphere with the banal lift of shirtless singer Robbie Grey's frothy lyrics.

The climax, of course, was "I Melt With You," re-recorded for the new album in hopes of the big hit so narrowly avoided the first time; the new version is nearly identical yet markedly inferior. Put this in the already bulging "Unnecessary Reunions of the '90s" file.

More interesting was the opening set from the Jack Rubies, who are as calculatedly arch as Modern English is calculatedly cheerful, but who offer a sound that power-pops with legitimate firepower.

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